Matthew Bettany on Blackstone’s National Criminal Advocacy Competition

When I heard that the “Blackstone’s National Criminal Advocacy Competition” was a thing in my first year, I immediately decided I wanted to do it. I love competitions and it’s the competitive nature of law that draws me to it. It’s a competition that would take us outside of the ‘bubble’ at Derby and pit us against other like-minded individuals we’ve never met before from different backgrounds and institutions. What’s not to enjoy about that?

Nicola Briers and I were prosecution as the home team in this first round. Nicola took the role of lead and I was junior council. We drew against Liverpool University. So, with that in mind, how did I find it?

It was amazing.

First, I would like to extend my thanks to Mr Stephen Littlewood of KBW Barrister’s Chambers for being the judge in the matter. Not only did he give up a valuable Saturday to come out of his way to Derby to be the judge, but he also reminded me that there is no such thing as overpreparing. It was when I was just getting started on my argument rebutting defence council on admissibility of evidence. I had based my submissions around the rules of Res Gestae. So, when he told me “This isn’t Res Gestae”, a politer version of my thoughts would be “oh dear”.

It turns out, I’d got tunnel vision on one half of that problem and completely neglected to do thorough research on the Bad Character application I could have made.

Not preparing thoroughly? That’s a paddlin’

Fortunately, only 10 of us were in the room at the time so not many people saw me eat a good portion of humble pie as Mr Littlewood took me through the submission I should have made. Do me a favour and don’t tell anyone, would you please?

Lesson Learnt: Don’t get locked in on an idea to the exclusion of all others.

Second, I underestimated how much time this competition would take. I am usually good at managing my time. I had a different Moot against Nottingham Trent that I was focused on before we got the brief for this, so once that was done I had 10 days to prepare. A lot of this preparation included reading up on all the diverse subjects as part of the competition. The bail hearing, the pre-trial evidence hearing, and then the trial itself. In those 10 days, I also had all the usual tutorials, lectures and the endless reading to complete. I was also taken out by man flu for several days. So it’s safe to say it is not a competition to enter lightly – the stress it will add on top of your workload is immense.

Lesson Learnt: Learning to triage your schedule is important, but don’t forget why you’re on the degree. There is no point doing contests if you can’t also find a way to keep on top of the work you’ll be getting a grade for.

Finally, it’s a test of your entire skill set. The first round required us to make a bail application. The second, required knowledge of witness statements and admissibility. This was new to me, so I made mistakes as discussed above. Finally, the trial itself. We had a whole bundle of statements, some pre-prepared statements made during police interview, some given to the police. We then had to examine and cross examine witnesses in the stand. If I had to sum up my handling of witnesses in one word, it would be “Leading”. So, I need to work on that for the next round.

My point is, every element of this competition I’d done in some form or other before. It was one of those moments where the endless grind of undertaking the LLB suddenly clicks, and you can see the point of it all. It’s a lot of hard work, but its for a point. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way, and don’t let the fear of making mistakes deter you from trying new things.

I tell myself “This will be better than my last one, but not as good as the next one”. Make the mistakes, experiment with your style. Listen to the feedback. Apply it. Don’t try to improve everything at once or you’ll overwhelm yourself. Find your confidence but be willing to consider you might be wrong. Trust in yourself, and most importantly don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Round Two is against Liverpool on their home turf, and they were exceptionally good the first time. I imagine round two will be much harder. Let’s see what I can learn from this next round.

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